Sergei Adamovich Kovalev was born on March 2, 1930 in Seredina Buda, in northeastern Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. When he was 2 years old, the family moved to the Podlipki district near Moscow.
Her father, Adam Adamovich Kovalev, was a mid-level railroad bureaucrat in Belarus, and her mother, Irena Ivanovna Makarenko, had studied medicine in Kiev before returning home to treat a sick mother. He had an older brother, Yuri Adamovich Kovalev.
Her parents sought to implant “the practice of silence and acquiescence” instilled in many Soviet citizens by the Stalinist purges, according to Emma Gilligan, an Australian scholar and author of “Defending Human Rights in Russia,” a detailed biographical study of 2009.
Yet even in his teens he argued with his teachers over alleged constitutional guarantees of free speech, Ms. Gilligan said, foreshadowing “the fastidious personality and encyclopedic approach to problems” that would later permeate. his work as editor of the most important underground newspaper. review of human rights of its time.
He studied physiology at Moscow State University from 1951 to 1959, a period that overlapped with Stalin’s death in 1953 and the thaw of the harsh Kremlin regime under Nikita S. Khrushchev.
In 1956, Mr. Kovalev co-authored with other students a letter refuting the government-approved theory of genetics, a challenge that provided a taste of KGB pressure. During her interrogation, Ms Gilligan wrote, KGB agents made veiled threats against Ivan Kovalev – who was then 2 years old – his son with his first wife, Elena Viktorovna Tokareva.
Mr. Kovalev met his second wife, Ludmilla Iur’evna Boitseva, senior laboratory assistant, in the 1960s. They had a daughter, Varvara.